MostNorthern Christmas Book List (Or Books For Jólabókaflóð)

Iceland’s relationship with books is one that, as a writer and bibliophile, has me in tears. I could move to the the land of ice and fire quite happily based solely on how passionate everyone is about literature.

It’s estimated that 1 in 10 Icelanders will write a book in their lifetime and the small, Nordic country has more writers, more books published and more books read than anywhere else in the world.

It came as no surprise to  learn Iceland has a special celebration for books, one which practically the whole country participates in. It’s called jólabókaflóð which translates to the ‘Christmas Book Flood.’

The celebration actually begins in September, when the Icelandic Book Association posts a book catalogue to every home in Iceland. (The catalogue is called Bókatíðindi and you can browse this year’s edition here if you would like.)

So, from September onward there’s a book buying hysteria in Iceland, which culminates on Christmas Eve when people gift each other the books they’ve been frantically buying. The rest of the evening is then spent reading. I can’t think of anything more perfect than that.

I believe so strongly that we need to be more Icelandic when it comes to our relationship with books, that I’ve put together a list of northerly reads to inspire your own jólabókaflóð.

Icelanders give paperback books on Christmas Eve, but the ones I’ve listed here are all available on Amazon Kindle, so you can have them pretty much instantly to read. If you don’t have a Kindle, (I don’t) no stress, you can download the FREE Kindle app here for IOS, Android, Mac and PC.

Happy reading!

Ice Bear By Michael Engelhard

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I’ve been wanting to read Ice Bear ever since it popped up on Amazon as a recommended read a month or so ago.

While it’s the priciest book on this list, with the Kindle Edition coming in at a hefty £15.21 if you’re invested in deepening your knowledge of this most important and beautiful species, it’s entirely worth it.

“From Inuit shamans to Jean Harlow lounging on a bearskin rug, from the cubs trained to pull sleds toward the North Pole to “cuddly” superstar Knut, it all comes to life in these pages.

With meticulous research and more than 160 illustrations, the author brings into focus this powerful and elusive animal. Doing so, he delves into the stories we tell about Nature–and about ourselves–hoping for a future in which such tales still matter.” – Amazon.

Buy it here.

Dark Matter By Michelle Paver

Dark Matter is one of my all-time favourite books, and I featured it in my Top Ten Ten Books About The North list  back in February. It’s a gloriously creepy ghost story set in 51HeHhcACUL._SY346_the High Arctic and it leaves no nerve unturned.

For years I longed for a book like Dark Matter and when it came along, it was everything I wanted and more. There’s a really good reason this book has nearly 400 reviews on Amazon and almost a full 5 stars. If you choose Dark Matter, you’ll be up all night reading, I promise.

‘January 1937. Clouds of war are gathering over a fogbound London. Twenty-eight year old Jack is poor, lonely and desperate to change his life. So when he’s offered the chance to join an Arctic expedition, he jumps at it. Spirits are high as the ship leaves Norway: five men and eight huskies, crossing the Barents Sea by the light of the midnight sun. At last they reach the remote, uninhabited bay where they will camp for the next year. Gruhuken.

But the Arctic summer is brief. As night returns to claim the land, Jack feels a creeping unease. One by one, his companions are forced to leave. He faces a stark choice. Stay or go. Soon he will see the last of the sun, as the polar night engulfs the camp in months of darkness. Soon he will reach the point of no return – when the sea will freeze, making escape impossible.

And Gruhuken is not uninhabited. Jack is not alone. Something walks there in the dark…’ – Amazon

Buy it here.

The Nordic Theory Of Everything By Anu Partanen

The Nordic Theory Of Everything is another book I’ve been longing to read, and now that it’s available on Kindle for 99p I’ll be delving into it this Christmas eve. Since living in Sweden, it’s come to my attention that, actually, not everything is as rosy as the majority of literature out there would lead you to believe…so it’ll be really interesting to read, reflect and no doubt debate the theories within its 432 pages, even if I’m outnumbered 10 to 1 this Christmas time.

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‘From childcare to healthcare provision for the elderly and tackling issues of homelessness, the Nordic countries are world leaders in organising society – no wonder Finland has been ranked among the happiest places in the world.

But when Finnish journalist Anu Partanen moved to America, she quickly realised that navigating the basics of everyday life was overly complicated compared to how society was organised in her homeland. From the complications of buying a mobile, to the arduous task of filing taxes, she knew there was a better way and as she got to know her new neighbours she discovered that they too shared her deep apprehensions.

The Nordic Theory of Everything details Partanen’s mission to understand why America (and much of the Western world) suffers from so much inequality and struggling social services. Filled with fascinating insights, advice and practical solutions, she makes a convincing argument that we can rebuild society, rekindle optimism and become more autonomous people by following in the footsteps of our neighbours to the North.’ – Amazon

Buy it here.

Reindeer An Arctic Life By Tilly Smith

I saw the cover of this book and thought to myself, ‘if I don’t enjoy this, I’m going to be really disappointed.’ I needn’t have worried though, as I took advantage of the ‘Look Inside’ feature on Amazon, had a read of a few pages and knew it was going to be a beautiful, captivating and enlightenment little read, from which I’d come away from a more learned and inspired reindeer obsessive.

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‘In this enchanting book, Tilly Smith leads the reader through the cold and extraordinary natural history of the reindeer.

A creature that is often used to adorn the winter season, the reindeer has been domesticated in Eurasia for longer than the horse while in North America it exists side by side with the humans, never tamed yet vital to the native settlements.

Despite the popularity of the image of the reindeer, they are rarely seen in real life.

This beautiful, comforting little book, peppered with anecdotes about the author’s own herd, is sure to kindle affection for one of nature’s most adaptable mammals, from fur-covered hooves to downy antlers.’ – The History Press

Buy it here.

 

Tales Of Iceland Or Running With The Huldefolk In The Permanent Daylight By Stephen Markley

While I’ve read (very) mixed reviews about this ‘fast, fun, educational and true story’ written by a journalist from Chicago who went to Iceland with his two friends, one of whom, Matthew Trinetti, is the main character in the book, it intrigued the hell out of me. And, seen as though I can get it free on Kindle Unlimited (if you don’t have Kindle Unlimited, get it. Seriously. It’s brilliant.) I thought why not.

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‘When American author Stephen Markley was a fresh-faced, impressionable university student in Ohio, he saw Quentin Tarantino describe a trip he’d taken to Iceland.

“Supermodels working at McDonald’s,” said Tarantino of the Icelandic. Markley never forgot those words.

Seven years later, Markley set out with two friends for Iceland, and adventure would ensue. The three young men found a country straddling Europe and North America, recovering from its 2008 economic crisis, struggling to regain its national identity, influenced by the entire globe yet trafficking in its singular Icelandic sagas and legends.

With Tales of Iceland, Markley delivers the fastest, funniest memoir and travelogue of an American experience in Iceland.

Beware: You will NOT learn how to say “Which way to the potato farm” in the Icelandic language. Nor will you learn how to locate the finest dining options in Reykjavik, or the best opera house. This is not that kind of travel book. Markley and his two irrepressible twenty-something American pals do not like opera, had no money to eat much besides eggs and skyr, and learned only how to say “Skál!” “Takk,” and “Skyr.” – Amazon

Buy it here.

Icebreaker By Horatio Clare

I only found out about this book and it’s author Horatio Clare today, but this book is on my ‘must read before the end of 2018 list.’

‘We are celebrating a hundred years since independence this year: how would you like to travel on a government icebreaker?’

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A message from the Finnish embassy launches Horatio Clare on a voyage around an extraordinary country and an unearthly place, the frozen Bay of Bothnia, just short of the Arctic circle. Travelling with the crew of Icebreaker Otso, Horatio, whose last adventure saw him embedded on Maersk container vessels for the bestseller Down to the Sea in Ships, discovers stories of Finland, of her mariners and of ice.

Finland is an enigmatic place, famous for its educational miracle, healthcare and gender equality – as well as Nokia, Angry Birds, saunas, questionable cuisine and deep taciturnity. Aboard Otso Horatio gets to know the men who make up her crew, and explores Finland’s history and character. Surrounded by the extraordinary colours and conditions of a frozen sea, he also comes to understand something of the complexity and fragile beauty of ice, a near-miraculous substance which cools the planet, gives the stars their twinkle and which may hold all our futures in its crystals.’ – Amazon

Buy it here.

Other Titles To Check Out

ScandiKitchen: Fika & Hygge By Bronte Aurell

Wild Guide: Scandinavia By Ben Love

Scandinavian Christmas By Trine Hahnemann

Finding Sisu: In Search Of Courage, Strength And Happiness The Finnish Way By Katja Pantzar

Folklore: The Northlore Series Edited By MJ Kobernus

 

 

 

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An Expat’s Life In Sweden : Winter’s Light & Details

The temperature has been rising again, so today was very slushy and I was very miserable, so I’m going to share some shots from a few weeks ago when the air was cold enough to catch in my throat and the light was glorious.

The light of spring and summer doesn’t get to me the way winter’s light does. Winter’s softer light gives me an energy that I’m unable to find in any other season. In spring and summer, more often than not I find myself saying ‘oh, piss off already, sun,’ and I can find myself slipping into many a depression during the warm months, because there’s too much light and not the sort of light that feeds my spirit.

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The details of winter – iced streams, frozen spider webs – can hold me captivated for hours. Literally. I nearly always loose track of time when I’m walking in the forest in winter, and more often than not, find myself making my way home in the dark.

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I would love to know which seasons help your spirit thrive.

An Expat’s Life In Sweden : My Relationship With Winter

I think about winter all. the. time. There’s never a time when the cold isn’t on my mind. As soon as the year ticks over into November, I turn my face to the sky for that first snowfall.

But snow has been scarce this year. Extremely scarce. Scarily scarce. I want to move further north, where it’s colder, and darker and the snow has been falling steadily for weeks. I dream of having a house where the forests meet the mountains and people are few and far between.

I’m grateful for the ice that we have though, even if the temperatures are fluctuating wildly, leaving it to weep then crackle and freeze…weep then crackles and freeze.

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There’s a wall of rock near home, one that has captivated ever since I moved to Sweden. I pass it almost everyday, but it’s in winter time when I can’t stay away from it, for those months when it grows ice.

These photos were taken today, at around 2.30. I’d just come back from the store and ran inside to grab my camera. The rock wall with become covered with more ice over the coming months, and while today, many of the icicles were breakable, they will become thicker and more steadfast, glistening and shimmering in the short hours of daylight, and gathering strength in the cold hours of night.

 

 

An Expat’s Life In Sweden : Lördagsgodis

Before moving to Sweden, I was blissfully unaware of the country’s obsession with godis (candy), or more specifically Lördagsgodis (Saturday candy). And now, three years on, I can still find it overwhelming when hordes of people, predominately adults, swarm the Pick ‘n’ Mix wall in our local ICA on a Saturday to bag up kilos (this isn’t an exaggeration) of the stuff.

I’ve tried to blend in, to become ‘one of the Swedes.’ But, after gorging on one too many bags, I’ve lost the will to have Lördagsgodis every single week. I’ve lost count of the amount of times that, in some kind of creepy trance, I’ve picked up a paper bag and a little plastic shovel and have half filled my bag, before shaking my head and abandoning my loot like it was on fire. In my opinion, less is more, and a binge every other month or so does me just fine.

The tradition of Lördagsgodis stems back from the 50’s when the Swedish Medical board advised parents to limit their children’s sweet eating to one day a week. But even though most Swedes do eat their candy on a Saturday, they still manage to beat every other country in the world in terms of consumption.

Down below you’ll find some godis I picked up the other day (once I’d managed to shoulder my way through the gaggle of grownups desperate for their Saturday candy fix). It’s mostly chocolate A: because I’m a chocolate fiend and B: I was in a rush as I was verging on having a full-blown panic attack.

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1. Plopp

While it has one of the most unfortunate names for a chocolate bar, Plopp is a huge hit in Sweden. Why? I’m not sure. Even though it’s made up of a perfect combo – milk chocolate and soft caramel – it’s mediocre. Try it though, just to say you have.

2. Gräddkola

This Swedish toffee is uber rich, and, while it’s delicious, it’s also a bit weird tasting. (You’ll find ‘weird’ is a word that often comes up when people are describing Swedish food stuffs.)  A must try.

3. Gräddkola Choklad

Same as the above but chocolate flavoured. Decent, not as good as the original. They do it in licorice flavour too, surprise, surprise.

4. Delizie

Probably one of the most substantial praline chocolates you’ll find in Pick ‘n’ Mix. More than one and you’ll feel queasy.

5. Marabou Mjölk Choklad

The most famous chocolate in Sweden. We always have a bar of this in the house, and if we don’t, there’s mass hysteria. You’ll see stacks of the stuff is every supermarket. It comes in a mind-boggling amount of varieties  including licorice, strawberry and Oreo, though my favourite is the regular you see here, or the dark variety.

6. Geisha

This is actually a Finnish creation, but it’s a Swedish favourite. Milk chocolate with a crunchy hazelnut filling. Nothing mind-blowing but worth a gobble.

7. Werther’s Original

These German caramel candies are exceptionally popular in Sweden (as they are in England and pretty much everywhere else in Europe.) They’re always at the Pick ‘n’ Mix wall. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that they’re a good, solid, decent candy.

8. Hem-Kola

This is another toffee, albeit with hazelnuts. Really tasty. Don’t expect to be doing much talking for a while after eating it – you’ll be picking your teeth for a good half hour.

9. Sweet Drop

You could easily miss this itty bitty candy while scouring the vast Pick ‘n’ Mix wall, but it’s one of my favourites. With a crunchy shell and a milky filling it tastes like childhood.

10. Juleskum

This marshmellowy Tomte (Santa) is eaten by everyone in Sweden at Christmas. Vanilla or strawberry flavoured (or a mix of both) they’re dangerously moreish.

11. Sockerbitar

These might look boring, but they’re one of the best things about Swedish Pick ‘n’ Mix. They’re like marshmallows, but are much denser and not quite as sweet as their cousins from the US.

12. BUBS Banana And Caramel

Nothing worth writing home about.

13. Polkargris

Basically a hard boiled sweet with a peppermint flavour. Great to take on car journeys or suck on after a meal. Not really what you want to be filling your Pick ‘n’ Mix bag with, though.

14. Can’t Remember

Tastes like Messmör, a sweet/salty/caramely whey spread that reminds me of Norwegian brown cheese. Like with Messmör, I’m not entirely sure if I enjoy it or not.

15. PimPim

Kinda fruity and…tough? Gets stuck in your teeth. No idea why it’s so popular.

16. Smultronmatta

Tastes of the little wild strawberries you find in the Swedish forest in the summer time, which have something of a purfumey taste and taste nothing like actual strawberries. Claggy and a bit weird.

17. ZOO

These little monkeys are not good for eating. Everyone loves them for reasons I can’t understand.

18. Lakris Twist

I guess these are a universal thing. I’m not a big fan of licorice, but I can handle one of these.

19. Lakris Salt

AVOID. Unless salty licorice makes you happy, in which case, get loads.

20. Punschpraline

These little things have quite the kick to them. They taste like Damsugare, a little Swedish cake treat that’s covered in marzipan, dipped in chocolate and flavoured with punsch liqueur.

21. Center

A firm favourite with Pick ‘n’ Mix regulars, you’ll often find these are one of the candies constantly running low. Milk chocolate with a caramel interior. They’re delicious enough.

22. Can’t Remember

Sadly I can’t remember the name for this, but it’s impossible to miss. Whatever-this-is-called is like the holy grail of the chocolate section (the Swedes section up their Pick ‘n’ Mix). Once you’re passed the chocolate layer, you’ll find marshmallow and caramel and something almost biscuity. A must pick.

23. Can’t Remember

While I can’t remember the name, I DO remember that this tastes exactly like the Swedish Fika treat chokladboll, which main ingredients are oats, coffee and cocoa. A must try.

24. BUBS LAKRIS

This is a salty, horrible beast. I didn’t get past one bite, and even that I spat out. Only get this if you adore salty liquorice and/or want the FULL Swedish Pick ‘n’ Mix experience.

25. PimPim Lakris

This is the gets-stuck-in-your-teeth one, just flavoured with salty licorice. NOT GOOD.

26-27 Can’t Remember

Milk chocolate buttons that I can just eat and eat and eat. Everyone puts some of these in their bag.

 

Some Tips To Make The Most Of Swedish Pick ‘n’ Mix

If you’re visiting Sweden, or are new here and are wanting to have a great Pick ‘n’ Mix experience, here are some tips to make the most of your sugar trip.

  • ICA City has one of the best Pick ‘n’ Mix selections that you’ll find, and for a not too bad price either. If I remember right it’s about 59kr per kilo.
  • Unless you’re fine with crowds and don’t mind scraping the barrels for the best candies, I recommend going for Pick ‘n’ Mix on any day BUT Saturday.
  • For the full Swedish experience, bypass the Skittles and Mini Lion Bars and opt for the candy that looks unfamiliar.
  • The chocolates tend to be the heaviest of the candies, so if you’re looking to save some krona, go light on the chocolate and heavier on the gummy and skum candies.

 

If you can help me out with the names I can’t remember, I’d really appreciate it! Please do let me know if you’ve enjoyed this post, and if there’s anything else you’d like to learn about my life in Sweden.

 

 

An Expat’s Life In Sweden : Advent, Hunting For Ice & A Teething Baby

Advent

On the first of December in Sweden, pretty much everyone (except us, I’ll show you when we do) puts up their Jul (Christmas) decorations. People’s windows tend to look the same; a large lit-up paper or metal star hung inverted (I don’t think many think of the Satanic association, so I always have a childish giggle at this) and advent candles.

Most people opt for a wreath of greenery on the front door, fairy lights in the garden, tomtar and nissar figurines dotted all over the place, and half a dozen straw Jul Goats of various sizes, both inside the house and out. The colour scheme is predominately white, maybe some will have an off-cream coloured lights and if people are really daring, and it’s rare, they’ll opt for coloured lights, but nothing too garish.

While it looks cozy, it’s all quite uniform. Because the winters are so long (yay!) and dark (also yay!) Swedes jump at the opportunity to light up their homes all festive like, and a lot actually get into the spirit before December has even arrived.  When I look out of the window now, my view is awash with twinkling stars in windows. It’s nice, but I’m more in favour of the forest dark.

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Hunting For Ice

If you would have said to me a couple of years ago, ‘when you’re 32 you’ll live in Sweden and have a baby, who’s driving you a bit mad with their teething woes,’ I would have scoffed at you and said ‘yeah, not likely!’ But here I am. And my baby is teething. And it’s really, really hard to maintain a calm composure.

Walking in the forest helps Saga relax 9 times out of 10 so I bundled her up and out we went. It was cold last night, about -4 and it was wonderfully crisp when we emerged from the cellar. (In our apartment block, all the prams and bikes and what have you are stores in a vast, creepy cellar.)

The cold air knocked Saga out within ten minutes or so, and I was able to hunt for ice. I was feeling shitty right up until the moment we got outside and my nose was filled with the scent of the forest. The cold has a strengthening effect on me. I could quite happily have one autumn season and three winters. I’m hoping in 2019 we might be able to spend the summer months in Greenland or Svalbard so I can avoid the Swedish summer (which was horrendous this year) completely.

As soon as I found the first icicle, my mood elevated even more, and I found myself able to breathe and start to enjoy the day. Most Swedes long for summer. I’m the exact opposite. Give me winter, give me cold and I’m happy, I can smile. I’m hoping to have an ice bath this weekend in the lake near our home. (It’s the one you see in the photos above. The first photo was its surface today.) The water is starting to re-freeze after the past warmish days and I’m craving to submerge myself in it, give myself to winter fully and completely.

*I’m sorry there’s no videos today. My phone is playing up something fierce and died on me moments after we got outside.

Eyes On The Arctic : Need To Read Things

In this weekly post, I collect all the need-to-read arctic related things that I’ve found over the past several days, and put them here in a handy bundle of links for you to pick, click and read.

12526-snowflakeWatch: Arctic’s thickest ice breaks for the first time

12526-snowflakeFast-Melting Lakes Could Increase Permafrost Emissions 118 Percent

12526-snowflakeGirl, 15, comes ‘back from the dead’ after two weeks lost in Arctic wild

12526-snowflakeReindeer Herders Ask For Emergency Funding To Save Animals From Starvation

12526-snowflakeAs the Arctic Heats Up, Summer Weather Is Lingering in Place

12526-snowflakePermafrost’s temperature on Arctic peninsula 2-3 degrees up

#climatechangeartchallenge : To Go On Indefinitely

I thought it would be best for the #climatechangeartchallenge to go on indefinitely…if you want to take part, just make art whenever you have a free moment and share, share, share using #climatechangeartchallenge

This piece – along with nearly all the other art pieces – going up for sale as a print, tote bag, phone case, etc, in the MostNorthern shop.

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Now, just in case you’re interested, on Patreon I have shared the text from my first children’s picture book which I was inspired to write following the catastrophic wildfires that have been burning in and around the Arctic Circle this summer.

If you’d like to read the story before anyone else, and follow the behind the scenes of the creation, hop over to Patreon where you can become a supporter of my work for just $1 a month.

One of the benefits of being a Patreon is that I will send you a copy of everything I publish. This week I’ll be sending out copies of my newest collection of poems My Father The Wendigo. You will also have a code to use in my shops to get money off any art piece you want to buy.

Where I Live

I’m madly curious about people, especially where they live, especially when where they live is in the North. I’m also madly curious about what happens in their everyday. That’s why many of us read blogs in general and that’s one of the main reasons I established MostNorthern.

So, I thought it might be interesting for you to see some of my everyday, and in this instance, it was a hike in the forest surrounding our home, after a morning at my laptop writing about what mothers could be doing when their newborn baby is napping…

Winter is just giving and giving and giving this year, and I couldn’t be more grateful! After a morning of heavy snowfall, I trekked out into the trees to see what the skies had left, and here’s some of what I found.

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– Katie / Your Eyes In The North

 

 

 

Semla Season In Sweden

Yesterday was Fettisdag (Fat Tuesday) in Sweden, a day when everyone in the country eats semla buns until the blood in their veins is running sweet and they can hardly move.

While you may have heard about the Swedish king Adolf Frederick who died in 1771 after eating a meal of lobster, caviar, sauerkraut, kippers and champagne, followed by 14 helpings of semla with hot milk (a desert also known as hetvägg) you might not know what a semla (plural semlor) consists of exactly. So here I am to explain.

A semla is a  hefty sized soft wheat flour bun, that’s been flavoured with cardamon, and filled with almond paste and whipped cream. It’s probably the most decadent thing you’ll eat in Sweden. Back in the olden days, semla were eaten at final celebratory feasts before Lent. Back then though, it was just a bun soaked in hot milk.

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At some point, enough wise souls got so bored with their bun and hot milk that they decided to slice it in half and put in some almond paste and cream. Funnily enough – and thankfully – the Swedes never looked back.

While supermarkets provide everything you need to put your own together, the majority of people, including me, buy them ready made. (Though I think next year I’ll try and make a batch.)

My frugal sense has to be put to one side for the day – in ICA 4 semlor will set you back about 60kr or just under £6 – but though I silently complain about the eye watering price, I do think, as I take my first bite, ‘this was worth every bloody krona.’

Despite always feeling like a literal mountain after eating  semla (yesterday was my third year) and vowing that I won’t touch another until next Fettisdag – I lied to myself yesterday and ate another one today because I’m pregnant and I can – Fattisdagen still remains to be my favourite celebratory day of food in Sweden. And if it doesn’t become yours too, I would be sincerely interested to learn why not.

If you’re not in Sweden, but need to taste a semla, here’s an excellent recipe.

If you’re in the UK and somewhere near/or in London, quick march yourself down to The Scandi Kitchen where they have semlor available until Easter. Elsewhere in the world, a quick Google search will direct you to any nearby Scandinavian eateries where you might be able to invest in one of the best tasting things to come out of Sweden.

Katie / Your eyes in the north

 

Listen To A Finnish Lullaby

It was entirely by accident that I was introduced to Naku Naku, an ancient Finnish lullaby performed by the Finnish folk musician Merja Soria and her kantele (Finnish folk harp). Sometimes YouTube can get it so right that it almost makes up for all the adverts they inflict upon us.

I’ve been playing the track for baby bump for the past three mornings…I find it settles the restless one right down. (It might have something to do with the little bit of Finnish blood in him/her.)

Soria used to sing Naku Naku for her daughter when she was going to sleep, and her grandmother sang it to her before that.

I recorded this video last Christmas as a gift to my daughter. I wanted her to have something that would connect her to the generations of strong Finnish women that came before us.

Naku Naku was Soria’s first recording after many years of silence…and I just hope with all hope that her YouTube channel becomes a hive of musical activity,  because the north and the wider worlds needs this woman, her voice and her kantele.

– Katie / Your eyes in the north.